Monday, December 28, 2009

Mini Reviews

I just completed a book of poetry, and realized that as the year draws near, I find myself steeped more in reflection than is usual. Okay, maybe that isn't true, but you notice it when another year has passed you. So I got to thinking about the last couple of months and what I've read. I give you my mini reviews.

Claudia Rankine - Don't Let Me Be Lonely - Possibly the best book I've read this year, definitely within the top two of poetry. It's an experimental work, with poems that aren't titled, or even broken into traditional stanzas. It's sometimes stream of conscious, often evocative, and the symbols and images that aren't of Rankine's own creation (that is, those images she twists out of the air of her own accord like the intimate relationships between death, reflection, and loneliness) are heavily influenced by popular American imagery, such as prescription drug names (Botox) or politics. It's hard for me to explain how much I loved this book.

Sherwin Bitsui - Shapeshift - Not an easy read. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, just something which makes it difficult to know where I stand. There is startling imagery, and I feel like if I can tap a fraction of that in the way Bitsui does, that I'll have become a more mature writer, but I almost feel as if my lack of knowledge of Native American spirituality has severely handicapped me in this read in some way, in the way that I feel handicapped by my lack of musical knowledge in Langston Hughes poems. It is, at times, hard for me to grasp any solid narrative or idea in any one poem, other than the play between the modern world and Native American sensibilities or the circle of life and death. I feel like this is a perfect book to read with an experienced group of poets for discussion, but as an individual read, for me, it often left me gasping for air. Worth multiple reads.

Mike McGee - In Search of Midnight - What to say about this book... On one hand, it's kind of awesome. I love that a poet can write a poem with the pure intention of just being funny, and there are some really interesting (lest I say, profound?) poems as well. There's a poem about lady bugs that I want to cut out and hang somewhere. Get this if you're in the mood to laugh.

Jeff Fleming - The Bones of Saints Under Glass - Best chapbook I've ever read, bar none. The images were stark and the poems often so short as to leave me with my (imaginary) jaw hanging, forcing me to read it over again. A few times. I will read this book over and over again, I know it. Also, the cover art, especially for a chapbook, gets me every time. I have a thing for silhouettes and bird bones, I guess.

A Van Jordan - Macnolia - Ever read something that leaves you disheartened about your own work? THAT'S how good it is? This is the only contender, this year, with Rankine's book for me. There were stretches of poems that were interesting, but not heart wrenching (though I begin to wonder is that what I even want for a whole collection of poems?) but every so often, there was a poem doing things with form, with words, with emotion, and with imagery that just floored me. If you are the type of person who gets tired of the experimentation with poetic form, get this book, because you'll read at least a few poems that will show you how it's done. I promise you.

Leah Angstman - Next Exit - I enjoyed the photos in the book, which lent themselves to the sort of road trip that you take during the work, and some of the works were interesting, though, for some reason, I found parts of the book a bit lewd. I'd have to read it again to know for certain why, because I've read a million books that cuss more often, and it was never explicit in any way. Perhaps that is the intent, that sort of uncomfortable shifting in your chair as you read.

That's it, for the last two months. We'll see what the next few bring about.

Friday, December 4, 2009


My very first night free of the shackles of my novel (see NaNoWriMo), I sat down at my computer and had no idea what to do. Of course, once my routine breaks back down, I won't have that problem, but I've devoted 2-4 hours every night, for a month, to writing a novel, and suddenly, a hole opened up in my day.

So as little as I wanted to, I spent the entire night submitting to publications. My poetry, that is. It's been a long time in coming.

Long story short, I submitted to a particular publication, which I will not currently name because I am angry, and it's difficult for me to tell how logical I am being when I'm angry. But Publication X responded immediately.

Anyone who has ever submitted a poem to a magazine/journal knows how strange this is.

It read as follows:

"Sorry, but negro is not a word we use; we are unable to offer you publication in Publication X."


Okay, I get rejected all the time. We all do (I hope. It's not just me, is it? hahaha) and it's never any skin off my back. Most of the time, it's just a form letter. And sometimes it's a little note, and either way, I understand. It happens.

But is it me, or is this message a little judgemental? I mean... I sent 5 poems. And it sounds as if they were all rejected because of the content of one of them. I mean, their policy would immediately disallow Langston Hughes from ever being published.

I am no Langston Hughes.

But there is a difference between 'We can not accept your poem because we view it to be vulgar/course/offensive" and "We can not accept your poem because we don't like one of the words."

Three things before I go:

1. Negro, as it was used in the poem, wasn't justifying its use as a derogatory category, or even trying to justify its use in a non-derogatory way.

2. The magazine is based in England. Does this make a difference? I don't know.

3. Hell, here it is, for you to enjoy, or else, agree with Publication X's decision:

The Negro and the Jew Lose their Loves

"I threw away a pearl richer than all my tribe." -Othello
“My daughter! O, my ducats! O, my daughter!” -Shylock

I stand at Stratford-upon-Avon, and watch tourists,
their skins shaded as Shakespearean villains.

The serfs nod, smile holy-white,
kneel, snap photos, speak tongues.

I wish to grab one about the passport,
throttle him like a limp chicken,

until he squawks as Shylock over his mint,
Othello, his white idol, his tar-brushed skin. I’ll yell:

“393 years, it's been. Where is your Shakespeare?
And if you haven't found him, where is your pen?

(A quick note: Both the quotes from Shakespeare are in reference to lines in their respective plays which are considered by many scholars to be racist. In the first, Othello bemoans the loss of his white wife, claiming that her 'pearl' is worth more than all of his race. In the second, Shylock, a merchant and Jew, believes that he has lost his daughter and money, and seems confused as to which to cry out for.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

NaNoWriMo 28, 29, and 30 [I won!]

A little late in coming. And fear not, I'm back to the regularly scheduled blog from here on out. Even if I choose to write another novel next year, I will only post about it intermitedly. This was fun. But... Exhausting. Poetry, and poetry videos, to come soon. And checking out my long neglected favorite blogs. You all know who you are.

NaNoWriMo, Day 28 - 44082
Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 9:44am | Edit Note | Delete
3489 words. I wasn't tired at all tonight, and I still am not so tired that I can't continue to write, but I feel as if I ought to get some sleep so that I don't completely lose all the daylight hours.

What made those 3000+ words more impressive, for me, was the fact that a good portion of them were in a chapter that was really killing me to write. There are just some chapters like that. There is, maybe, a particular part that you can't quite get right, and even if you force yourself past it, you've sort of been thrown out of your rhythm, so the rest of the chapter is just torture to get through. This was one of those chapters, and I've actually been working on it for a few days. It turned out, I think, much better than I had expected. Which just goes to show. Something.

I am only 6000 words away from my goal. It's sort of exciting, but mostly a relief. I can't wait until I no longer feel guilty for only writing my single poem a day. Really. It's going to be a huge load off my shoulders. Although a part of me thinks that this much writing can only be helping. Even with my poetry.

Interesting fact. Word says I have spent 5089 minutes working on this novel. Which is about 85 hours. Which is about 3 hours a day. Which is about right, in the long run. Probably closer to 2 hours most days, and more some others, with a few hours where Word is open, and counting my time, but I'm doing something else like watching youtube videos or wasting time on Facebook.

You know how that goes.

NaNoWriMo, Day 29 - 48110

4028 words. That is officially a new record for one day. Hot damn. It was a combination of not wanting to have to write thousands and thousands of words on the very last day, after a full day at work, and partially because the last chapter I wrote was kind of interesting in its own way, even if I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the way I told it. It might be better served scattered throughout. But I digress.

I am one chapter away from the conclusion to my novel. There may be a prologue, but there needn't be. So at the end of this month (it'll technically be at the start of this next month, due to the way time works for me because of working third shift), that is tomorrow, I will have a novel that were someone to pick up and read, would have plot points, characters, and a conclusion. It's not especially amazing to me, but still something I'm proud of. At this point, that person who picks up this novel would notice a ton of glaring mistakes, such as my lack of inclusion of any sense of where the events are taking place (I didn't feel like figuring out where on the map things were happening, when they happened.) as well as the mention in opening chapters of a couple of characters who change or are dropped altogether.

Note to self. Have a reason to put characters in a story. Don't just include them because you sort of feel like two characters aren't enough to tell a story with. The story ends with three humans and about 8 or 9 supernaturals, so it wasn't a problem.

I'm not going to lie, though. I am going to be so happy to get home from work, and be able to just go straight to bed. I have had this job about a month now, and I haven't been able to do it. Not once. Those are 10-11 hour shifts.

Congrats to everyone else who completed their novels, among them my poetry/novel-ing (not a word) buddy, Bianca, who finished a few days early. Well, she hit the word limit. Her book seems to be substantially longer than mine, and good for her. A part of me wishes mine was longer, but at this current point in time, I can't imagine it being any longer without me just throwing in filler. Somehow I managed to write a novel that was almost exactly 50000 words. I'm sure it will change time over the editing process (though it can't shrink much, or else it will no longer be a novel).

Can you guys tell I'm excited? Hahaha

NaNoWriMo, Day 30 -50536

I hit the word goal. That is not to say the novel is finished. I actually just had to type up a summary of the final chapter, because it became clear to me that it's going to be a monster, and that as excited as I am about all this, that I'm not in the right frame of mind to write all the details that scene will require. There is a ton of action, and dialogue, and hopefully, some kind of emotion. haha.

It's a little disappointing knowing that I have to still keep writing to finish this thing, but at the same time, very cool to know that what I have is novel length.

Thanks anyone and everyone who read along with me this month. It was fun at times, exhausting most times, and honestly, I am glad that I only have to write a couple hundred words a day, instead of a few thousand.

By the way. The thing is practically written, and still no title. This does not bode well. haha

Sunday, November 29, 2009

NaNoWriMo, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 27

Wow, I can't believe it's been a week since I posted anything here. This new job alone would be enough to kill me, but NaNoWriMo is making it damn near impossible to keep up. Well, without further ado:

NaNoWriMo, Day 21 - 35957

1885 words. That's almost exactly at the goal for words per day, if you write 1/30th of 50000 words, every single day. If that even makes sense. It's nice to at least hit that goal, even if I don't write quite as much as I'd like.

I was reading the NaNoWriMo book, which I apparently already owned, and there was a part that mentioned how for many of those participating in this third week, this is the most you've ever written in one story. And that's a strange thing to admit to myself. I have never written so much about one group of characters, about one situation.

And it's interesting to think how little time this took. I mean, I spend a lot of time writing, no doubt. That was part of the point of this challenge. But spread this over two months, over four, over half a year. Over a year. How many years have I spent thinking about things, and never spending half an hour every so often just putting them to action? How many novels would I have under my belt if I did?

In any case, I will soon enough have a fully written novel. Good enough to publish? Only time will tell.

Time, or a second novel. The one I start next. It's going to be historical fiction. More word on that when the research is done for it.

NaNoWriMo, Day 22 - 38215

2288 words. And let me just say outright they they were excruciating to get out there. I just was not in the zone tonight, and what's more, I hit a point in the story where people were talking abut so many things that had happened before, that I found myself confusing myself about all sorts of things. I have taken very few notes during this little experiment, and I wrote nothing down preceding it, as far as characters and plot go.

And now I can see why it's done. My next time, I will have much more written down beforehand, I think, at least to try it out.

As I said before, I don't know that my novel will be finished at 50000 words. It may be closer to 70000. But things are starting to draw closed, and that means having to figure out why I did things 25,000 words ago, and remembering characters I haven't thought about in a week or more. It's getting hectic.

But I'm getting there.

NaNoWriMo, Day 23 - 38215

It's interesting. Today at work, I had a series of ideas that basically tied the novel up, completely. Every single dead end, every single "I caused this to happen, but don't know why," every single loose thread that I have wondered about or typed a whole chapter out without quite knowing how I was going to tie it up, I figured out.

It sounds like I experienced some grand epiphany, but in fact, we literally had no work to do, so I was just standing there day dreaming.

But when I got home, I had 0 effort to write. So I didn't.

Maybe I've 'written myself out,' by thinking so much about this all, tonight.

But with this knowledge in hand, there is a good chance that within the next few days, I'm going to blaze through a few thousand words.

NaNoWriMo, Day 24 - 39172

A lot of stuff happening, and it is far too late, and I am far too tired, to write any more than that paltry 957 words I've written. But on the plus side, I am getting a bill collector off my back. By paying the bill, that is.

On the novel writing front, at work, during the lulls, I find myself thinking over the ideas I have to come, and revising them slightly, but also finding faults in the fledgling novel that I just happen to remember or realize. "This character doesn't really say anything at all in this chapter, does he?" It is working because of how fresh in my mind practically every scene is. Since I just wrote them, I am able to remember a lot of the events within them.

And I'm also thinking of extra (non-essential) scenes as well. Part of doing this NaNoWriMo thing is just typing, but part of it is trying to actually complete a novel. So what you end up doing, a lot of the time, is getting the bare essentials down. Now, it turns out that I get on these kicks where I insert something kind of major into an earlier chapter I've written, so I end up not just having barebones, but a more fully fleshed out narrative. But it still happens a little, and at work, I keep coming up with these side stories I think sound cool.

I just need the oppurtunity to write them.

NaNoWriMo, Day 25 - 39172

Wrote nothing. Very tired.

These last few days (and the next one or two as well) have been very difficult to write during. Things will pick up after those days. They'll have to, because the month is almost over. But then, so is my novel. At least, the 50000 word goal is.

Dunno if I will write tonight after work or not. I doubt it, because I will be working even later than usual. Only time will tell, I suppose.

NaNoWriMo, Day 26 - 40593

Quite a ways from 50000, and with only 4 days left (I'm operating on a different schedule, because of the fact that I began writing after work, and so I write into a new day...) Even if I were to fail, though, I'd be happy with the great stretch of writing I got done during this month. I can't say I didn't think it was possible, but it's still interesting to think how it took a challenge like this to finally get myself around to doing it.

So I wrote 1421 words, which isn't enough, even, to close the chapter I've been working on for so long, inserted in between two other chapters. It's looking to become my longest chapter. I dunno how I feel about that. I may break it up, I may not. But it's clear, whatever the case may be, that this is not going to end at 50000 words.

I go to bed now, not because I'm tired, not because I can think of nothing more to write. But because the Cluttered Mess: Even Messier, a giant writer's salon/artist of all kinds showcase/runway fashion show starring some of the jewelry creations of my girlfriend/party is happening tonight. And if I don't get some rest, I will not be ready to perform there.

So I'm off.

NaNoWriMo, Day 27 - 40593

I wrote nothing last night. Far too tired. And with so few days left, and so many words to write, you'd think I'd be on my A game.

Sometimes, I think, your A game is just dragging yourself through the day.

Which is not to say that the past few days weren't awesome in their own right. But some of us have to drag ourselves even through those days. That's how tired we are.

Decorated the Christmas tree at my parents', and Regan had her first show; her jewelry decorated the runway models at my friend Sam's party. She did awesome, and even sold a couple things. But as much fun as we were having, we had to leave after the show to get some sleep.

A point on writing, while I'm thinking on it:

I don't think it will ever matter how long I have been writing for. I think I will always have days where I question my ability to write anything at all. And those days directly opposite this feeling where everything I write feels as if it belongs emblazoned across the sky. It doesn't matter that I tell myself every day that neither of these feelings is true. It happens nevertheless, in cycles unending.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo, 17, 18, 19, and 20

NaNoWriMo, Day 17 - 28413

I got very little sleep last night. I was staring at the screen for 5 minutes, in a kind of haze, trying to decide if I was going to write tonight, because I really feel like I ought to.

But that haze.

It decided for me.

Tomorrow I'm working overtime (10 more hours, so this is going to be a 50 hour paycheck. Wooo!), but I think with the extra rest I get tonight, I should be good to go.

NaNoWriMo, Day 18 - 31008

2595 words! I worked 10 hours today (on what is supposed to be my day off) and what's more, it was by far the most exhausting job that there is to do at Amazon. Library picking, which involves 10 horrible hours of walking. Additionally, the fastest way to do it involves keeping a few numbers in your head at all times, which means it's very hard to daydream about your novel. I'm sure everyone has that problem.

But I got home, cooked some salisbury steak TV dinner things, made some corn, wrote my poem, and got to writing my novel. And 2595 words. That's not bad. Especially considering I wrote 800 and was ready to go to bed, and then shamed myself into going on since I skipped yesterday.

I went back again and inserted a chapter. It was an attempt at fixing the flow of the novel. Not the flow of the mood, which is one thing I try to think about, but the flow of the narrative itself: I needed something not so action-packed to take place between action scenes. But I turned that moment, which started off as a brilliant single shot idea at work ("What if they meet this new character I just thought up in my head?") ended up fleshing out a character which, also at work, I had begun to fear hadn't had enough direct impact to the story.

I'm gonna end with something that I've learned from this whole experience, about the way I personally need to write a novel. I have taken a class on novel writing, and read some books, and I've seen a lot of different suggestions, which makes sense, since everyone writes differently. But one of those suggestions is to make an outline, or figure out what your characters are all about; where they're from, what they'd do in given situations.

I always felt as if this was very constricting. A part of me wants the absolute freedom to do what I please. Which is not to say that in Chapter 1, my main character is cripplingly (is that a word?) shy, and in chapter 2 they're swinging from a chandelier at a strip club. Instead, I want to have a general idea of a character in my head, and situation, in my head, and see where it takes me as I write.

But in practice, that can easily become a nightmare, especially given the more characters you have. So in the future, I think what I need to do is have a fairly good idea of a number of 'core' characters. Not necessarily the main characters, but characters which I know are important to the story at some point (okay, so maybe that is a main character, but I just mean to say not main in the sense that they will be the focus of the novel).

For me, having just a vague idea of where the novel is going is great, and freeing, and fun. But having that same sense of freedom for every character can become a little overwhelming. I feel like I have discovered who certain characters are in chapter 16, and that when I go back over the book from start to finish, I will endlessly be inserting that 'character' into their earlier appearances.

But perhaps that's as natural as anything else.

NaNoWriMo, Day 19 - 31789

I typed a modest 781 words. I had to make the decision to pull the plug and go to sleep after I found myself dragging parts onto different nerf guns on nerf's flash website. I could not possibly have been less productive.

But I worked 11 hours last night, and a total so far of 41 hours. After tomorrow's shift, that will be 52 hours in a week. It doesn't sap my creativity. Just my energy. haha.

I want to officially note, by the way, that I am no closer today than I was at the start of having even a working title for my novel. It's currently saved as "A Shift 6," which just happens to be the first two words of the novel, followed by the number six, which is how many times I've saved it as a new file just in case something horrible happens to it.

This part of the book is so boring to write, but I've got to pull through. It can't be all explosions and chase scenes. Trust me. I have read that novel excerpt in college. It was not enjoyable.

NaNoWriMo, Day 20 - 34072

I just got done working my 52nd hour of standing or walking on concrete at my job. My legs hurt, but surprisingly less than they did that first week. And needless to say, I was not feeling like writing when I got home, despite all my day dreaming about it at work. I had forgotten to take my stuff to work (do poetry things on my lunch break so I don't have to do them when I get home) so I still have to do those things before I sleep, so I will try to make this short.

But I wrote 2283 words, which is much less than it felt like. I had some fun with my characters in a chapter that hopefully relieves some of the intense pressure of the preceding chapters.

At work, I was thinking about my story, and I'm not certain it will end in 50000 words. Which, of course, is not a requirement of NaNoWriMo, but something that I would have liked to have some amount of closure in. I'll keep writing 'til it's done, though.

During my day dreaming, I envisioned almost all the events that I want to take place before the ending. It's strange being so far along that I know almost everything that will happen. There are things I need to figure out how I'm going to tie them up, but all in all, I think I know how I want it to end.

Which would leave me with the giant task of revision, fact checking (I just make crap up, currently. No city names or anything of that nature), and thinking up a title. Blah.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Days 13, 14, 15 and 16

NaNoWriMo, Day 13 - 22610

Work was a little rough today. Not physically, but mentally, because it was my first night outside of my training group. I'm more or less an official regular employee, in that nobody much cares anymore about helping me along. And I had to sort at one of the worst stations, because I was too stupid to grab a good one early.

Which means I didn't spend too much time thinking about where my novel was going. I did spend a little though.

And as is always the case, when I got home to get to it, I didn't write any of that. Instead, I inserted 923 lines into the second chapter, in a moment of clarity that simultaneously makes that chapter a hell of a lot more interesting (if you go back and read my first couple of days of blogging, I was worried that those chapters were boring) and also characterized two characters I was worried I had not characterized enough.

PLUS, all this builds up the current chapter, the one I ended up not writing, so that it doesn't seem to come out of no where, and therefore, have no emotional connection with the reader at all.

This is one of the best parts of prose writing. Poetry, for me at least, is often all about finding the perfect sentences, and sounds. It's about ideas too, definitely, but a lot of the time I spend is purely about the language itself. It's what I love most about writing.

But prose has be focus on something else. I can spend all night working on the language of my novel. And I'm sure I will, over many weeks of revision. But there's something like a puzzle at play as well. Trying to figure out what is it, structurally, that elicits emotion. The timing, chapter breaks, knowing just how much information to give at any given time.

Lord knows if I am tapping that spring at all or not. But I'm definitely glad I'm trying to. That I'm thinking about it.

NaNoWriMo, Day 14 - 25237

I hit the halfway mark! This is the first real marker for my success at finishing a novel, because I could never be certain, before now, if I had ever written as much as I've already written. But I've never gotten as far as halfway, that is for sure. (Note: The internet was messing up last night when I was trying to post this, and so I just went to bed. Hahaha)

It's strange to think that I may have a finished work, some day. The novel doesn't quite feel half finished, though, so it may go on to be more than 50000 words long. We'll see.

I wrote one of the more difficult chapters last night. And I'm not certain I actually got over the difficult part, rather than just skip over it in the interest of typing the rest of the story up, but the second draft, in this case, is the time to do the research and fix the inconsistencies. 2627 words for one chapter; not only are my chapters becoming more complex, but they're growing in length as well. I don't know what that means, exactly.

It's strange, though. The entire time I am writing this novel, I am thinking about the next. What I'll do differently, and how much better it will be. haha. That's not to say that I believe this one is a lost cause, but it's almost like working on a table, and being nearly done when you learn how to use an electric sander, or a level. This table might end up being decent, or even great. But you're already looking forward to the next to try out your new tools.

NaNoWriMo, Day 15 - 27020

1783 words, and I would have sworn it was something closer to 4000. Man it's hard to judge word counts by the time it takes to write them.

I just got done with a really fun chapter. There's one character in particular who I love to write about much more than the main characters. All the writing books suggest that if you find that this happens, consider making the 'main' characters supporting characters, and follow this much more interesting character, but I disagree entirely. There are some characters who are interesting BECAUSE you rarely see them. Gandalf was awesome in Lord of the Rings, but I honestly think that the story would have lost a lot of its magic (lol) if it had been about Gandalf, or even Strider or Legolas, instead of the incredibly average hobbits.

Likewise, the original Star Wars gave us the perfect dose of Darth Vader. Then they gave us the prequels all about Darth Vader. All Vader, all of the time. And it was a terrible idea.

Some people are best left as enigmas. Must I really be forced to see Darth Vader pod-racing as a 7 year old kid?

NaNoWriMo, Day 16 - 28413

Augh. It was a rough night, especially at work. I got home and after 3 and a half hours, I've only written 1393 words. I mean, I wasn't typing that entire time. But that's part of the problem. haha.

All things considered, I wrote much more than I might have expected, but that doesn't count for much when it's still well short of the night's goal.

Look. You can tell how strung up and unable to write I am by this entry. hahaha.

More to come tomorrow. I promise.

Friday, November 13, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Days 10, 11, and 12

NaNoWriMo, Day 10 - 19222

I hurt my neck, somehow, right before I went into to work, so the first half of the night was pretty terrible. They time us on our sorting, and I screwed up a ton of times and was starting to get a little down, because I have no backup plan to this job, so I'm banking (sort of) on trying to get hired on instead of laid off at the end of this season. But by the end of the night, I had turned things around, and my rate was faster than many of the people who had been there for months.

I wonder sometimes, about how much effort if given to these things that mean nothing, really, to us. And about how few people at any job I have ever had, know that I write at all.

Anyway, I got home and wrote 1749 words. Sometimes when it gets real slow at work, I start daydreaming about what I will write about next in the story, and invariably, when I get home, I never write about any of it. This time, I thought about the big "Fellowship of the Ring" conversation that was about to happen in my story (that is, the moment where everything is explained. You know how Frodo and the gang just wandered/fled about for the first part of that book? And then finally he gets to the meeting and finds out what the big deal is? That moment).

But then the action part that immediately precedes that moment ended up taking 1749 words to explain, when in my head, it was like 3 sentences. And having typed it all, I don't know that I have it in me to do the next section. Tomorrow is a day off of work, and while I'll be reading poetry at the Running Word, I'm sure I'll have time to get in 2000+ words at least. I hope.

NaNoWriMo, Day 11 - 19222

I wrote nothing today. I'm just gonna be honest. It's not in me at the moment. haha.

I wrote my poem for the day, but I just need to sleep at the moment. The next chapter will be fun, so hopefully that will spin into two or three chapters.

Although that has never happened before.

NaNoWriMo, Day 12 - 21687

Wrote 2465 words tonight. I've officially broken 20000 words!

That's the plus side. The downside is that at the moment, I've got no idea where the plot is going. But that's not so bad a downside, yet, because I'm done writing for the night, and I have a chance to dream, and then work a 10 hour shift tomorrow, thinking about it.

If I am at 25000 words in 3 days, I will be exactly where I ought to be. But I hope to write enough that by that time I'm slightly ahead of the curve.

A little note about the craft: I have read many different takes on a ton of different points of writing. And when you read these things, they are almost invariably about novel or short story writing, which was wholly unhelpful toward what I usually write (poetry). But it was also pointless, because as with most things, learning theory without being in practice, or having practiced something extensively to base that on, is pretty pointless. I sort of remember the tips or ideas as I write, but it's mostly lost knowledge by now. But having written so much, I feel as if I can pick up one of these books and really appreciate and learn from what they have to say.

And during the time that I start revising, I'll have actual chapters and instances of mistakes to turn to.

It's pretty much the only thing I have to look forward to, that has to do with revision.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Days 8 and 9

NaNoWriMo, Day 8 - 16468

At first, I didn't write as much as I'd have liked to (isn't this always the case?) but tonight marks a different kind of milestone. I have officially caught up/overtaken my original manuscript. That is, after all the chapter rearrangements and rewrites, I have chronologically exceeded the latest point in the story I had ever gotten to. Tonight I deleted the last chapter of the original manuscript, and therefore while I started with about 10000 words of already written material, I have deleted or rewritten the vast majority of it. I'd say 90%, if not more.

Tonight, my net increase in word count is began as 636 words, due to the entire deleted chapter. But from here on out, there will be no deleted chapters, it's all increasing from now on. And right before bed, I typed up a storm, increasing the count to a decent 2627 words.

So a little bit about the novel itself. I've been kinda secretive about it, because unlike poems, people actually steal novels and their ideas. haha.

My novel is somewhat of a fantasy, and it's based in part around the mythology of angels. I remember when I explained this in my novel writing class, one woman told me that this was a terrible idea, because it would be offensive to certain religions. Not only do I not really care (people will be offended over just about anything, and I'm not claiming any of this is true in the first place), but I am specifically basing it on the LEGENDS that surround angels, which is what I've always been interested in. That is, their portrayal as white winged humans, as warriors and protectors as opposed to messengers. There are a few parts of the Bible with mention of angels in these ways (or that can be taken in these ways) but for the most part, a lot of what we think about when we envision angels isn't directly from the bible, but from works like Milton's Paradise Lost, or renaissance paintings, or popular myth.

So with that said, about 50%, at this point, of the novel's characters are human, and 50% angelic. I have reached a point where I think that each of the three perspectives I am telling the story from are equally engaging. Of course, it's my responsibility to ensure that this is the case for the entire novel, but I only have 30 days. I don't have time for that.

For now, I just type what strikes me, and I'll worry next year about revising it.

March, or some month, should be National Novel Revision and Editing Month.

NaNoWriMo, Day 9 - 17473

That's a 1005 words I typed tonight. And I just heard Regan's alarm go off. The light is out. Working the night shift means two things. First, that I get to write in absolute silence. I know Regan would let me write in peace; she always does. But having someone around, even when they let you write, is a distraction in itself, because if you like the person at all, you have a desire to speak with them. Honestly, I welcome the distraction most the time. But I have to write a whole lot of words to get this novel done. haha.

Second, sleep is difficult. I mean, I have never had any problem sleeping, really. But even though I am sleeping at least 8 hours, it's not very satisfying, with the kids playing outside, the sun beating in, and the knowledge that I'm wasting daylight hours sleeping.

On the plus side, tonight went pretty quickly, at work.

Can't say the same about the writing.

But my feet don't hurt very badly, so that's good.

Monday, November 9, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Days 5, 6, 7

NaNoWriMo, Day 5 - 10358

I'll make this real quick. I have to be up in like 6 hours, and therefore I am foregoing writing entirely tonight. I have the day after tomorrow off, so I will make up for it then.

I think the important thing about goals is to understand why you have them. I write a poem every day not to have more poems, but to ensure that I am consistently working on my writing skills. But I am doing NaNoWriMo not necessarily to improve my writing ability (which of course, I hope is happening), because I think spreading the novel out over a longer period of time will help with a lot of that. Instead, I am doing this to get a novel written. To have that under my belt. So that I know, in the future, when I want to write a novel, that it's possible because I've done it.

And so if I skip days, I am not upset with myself, like I would be if I skipped writing my poetry.

Anyway, the reason I have to be up so early is that I will be reading a poem on Accents, 88.1 FM, Lexington Kentucky (

I'm stoked! So 0 words written today. Let's see what happens tomorrow.

NaNoWriMo, Day 6 - 11403

I woke up after only 5 hours of sleep and drove to UK, braved the ridiculous parking and fought my own inability at finding my way around and miraculously found myself at the radio station just in time to read my poem. The recording is not up quite yet, but it may be up by the time you guys read this (

I drove immediately back home, tried to check mail and whatnot, and took a nap, then went to work. Let me tell you. Two days in a row of 10 hours of standing on my feet is killing my legs. I get home and I'm not tired in the way you need to be to sleep, just unable to walk around and get anything to eat, get dressed. Anything.

Anyway, I had what felt at the time like a burst of inspiration at work, and got home and it was mostly gone. I did write 1045 words, which I inserted into an old chapter to introduce a new character. But no new chapters, and I'm still well below where I need to be. But now I really am the kind of tired that you need to be to sleep, so it will have to wait until tomorrow. 11403 words is not so shabby.

NaNoWriMo, Day 6 - 13841

The thing about days off is that when that have been preceded by especially busy days, you want more than ever just to rest, and not to finish all the things you either chose to or had to put off. So I didn't do much of anything productive until very very late in the night.

But I wrote 2438 words when I finally got to it, one of the longest chapters I've yet written, and one of the more fun ones as well, I think.

Some things I've learned about my writing, as it pertains to novels:

I thrive on the unknown, on organic writing. I can't write with an outline, because nothing ever ends up happening that way when I sit down to write.

Conversely (and this is what I'm only just now learning) a part of me needs to create a few, or perhaps many, characters beforehand. They don't need, at first, to be fully fleshed out, but I need them to exist before I put them into situations. I love dialogue, and situations that arise from conflicting emotions and viewpoints, but those don't come about very easily when I haven't decided on any characters beforehand. It can happen, but what seems to happen instead is I try to think of ways to get what I think must happen to happen that way with the people I already have, and that just doesn't always work out.

See yesterday's entry, where I had to go back and insert a character in an already finished chapter. And that risks messing up much more than the chapter itself. I had to rewrite huge sections of that chapter, and parts of any chapter that followed it as well. That's a lot of wasted time.

Anyway, tomorrow I hope to write even more. On the 15th I need to be at 25000 or more, and I'm not nearly as close to that as I'd like to be.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Days 3 and 4

NaNoWriMo, Day 4 - 10358

In case any of you are wondering about my days being slightly off, I work third shift, and write after I get off of work, so my days are slightly longer than they should be.

Today was my day off, the day I promised myself I'd do some catching up on my novel, since I wrote less than a hundred words yesterday. And I wasted the whole day, as it pertains to writing (except for the part where I attending a poetry reading of Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, from her new book "The Air Around the Butterfly.").

And while I have been incredibly tired all day, I made the decision to stay up as if I am working, in order to try to keep my sleep schedule consistent, even if it's consistently sucky. So at around 4 in the morning, I began typing, and it was incredibly slow going for a while, until I got to a new chapter, which exploded forth in a burst of (what I hope is) creativity. The issue here, for me, is that my main character's chapters are much harder for me to keep interesting, his being a regular person, while the chapters about angels are fun for me to write because I have no frame of reference, really, to have to be loyal to, and because, as angels, they are by their very nature sort of interesting creatures to think about. If this wasn't NaNoWriMo, I would probably think this over for weeks or months without writing anything at all, but instead, I just keep churning on.

3143 words typed tonight. And I could probably go on, but I'm pretty tired, and I hit the end of a chapter, which seems as good a point as any to leave off. And I'm officially back to the point I started, though with a story that, however imperfect, is much more clearly directed then it ever was before.

Work tomorrow, then more typing. Augh.

NaNoWriMo, Day 5 - 10358

I'll make this real quick. I have to be up in like 6 hours, and therefore I am foregoing writing entirely tonight. I have the day after tomorrow off, so I will make up for it then.

I think the important thing about goals is to understand why you have them. I write a poem every day not to have more poems, but to ensure that I am consistently working on my writing skills. But I am doing NaNoWriMo not necessarily to improve my writing ability (which of course, I hope is happening), because I think spreading the novel out over a longer period of time will help with a lot of that. Instead, I am doing this to get a novel written. To have that under my belt. So that I know, in the future, when I want to write a novel, that it's possible because I've done it.

And so if I skip days, I am not upset with myself, like I would be if I skipped writing my poetry.

Anyway, the reason I have to be up so early is that I will be reading a poem on Accents, 88.1 FM, Lexington Kentucky (

I'm stoked! So 0 words written today. Let's see what happens tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Days 1 and 2

It is day three, but I haven't written anything yet, and I'd like to share what I have so far. I was sharing this on Facebook, and didn't even realize that I should be posting them onto here as well, since I have so little time to do both. I've started my job at Amazon. It's a little rough already, even though the first day all we did was watch videos and demonstrate competence with machinery so simple that everyone felt stupid using it. That's not to say there were some tremendous failures from some of the people, but I think that goes without saying.

I'm still writing my poetry every single day and reading as well, so yeah, I don't have a lot of time right now.

Anyway, I think I'm going to post every day's journal, if I write one, but post them in twos or threes. So without further ado, Days 1 and 2 of my NaNoWriPo (ad)venture:

Day 1:

I've decided to take this challenge on, partially because of the enthusiasm Bianca has for it, and partially because I am apparently down for every free writing challenge known to man.

It's a little different for me, though. I am starting a new job (in 12 hours, or so, actually) and will be continuing to write my poem a day, something which I started during National Poetry Month in April, and haven't missed a day of yet. So it's going to be a little Hellish. Which is apparently how I like writing.

But what makes this even more different is that I actually have about 10000 words already typed up from a novel idea I had during college, which I wrote for Novel Writing I. So because I had always intended on finishing it (it's technically fantasy, for those of you wondering, and it's more fun than literary, which sort of bothers me), and because I already see the difficulty of finishing this with my other obligations, I'm going at this with a bit of a head start.

Except that it doesn't feel that way. I spent the last few hours re-reading over the first 5 or 6 chapters, and heavily rewriting one of them, heavily editing/deleting another, and moving around the order of two of them. So at the end of the day, my word count actually went down a little.

In any case, I now have 9350 words toward my 50000 word goal. Until I start writing material that I have not written in some form before, my word count may stay steady, or may even drop. But hopefully at the end of this month, I will have a considerable portion of a novel done. I am setting the goal at the traditional word limit, and not at a finished manuscript. Because who knows how far that will get me into the actual story?

Day 2:

Before I get into the actual writing portion of this note, let me just explain my first day of work real quick.

Anyone who knows me knows how terrible I am about getting lost. It happens a lot. A whole lot. Even with directions, even to places I have driven a million times before. So I intended on leaving very early for my first day, and just sit in the parking lot with a book on the off chance that I find it easily.

Well, this is a third-shift job, so I took a nap before my shift, and ended up over-sleeping some. Which meant I left late, and surprise-surprise, I can not find the place. I have 10 minutes to find it, and I'm driving up and down this road when I come up with the ingenious idea of following the next car that comes, because it's 7 at night; how many cars could be driving down this road?

Well, long story short, I get lost, and I'm frantically texting my girlfriend to ask her to ask her sister (who worked at Amazon last year) for directions. My text message inbox is full, the road is pitch black and winding, I'm trying to type things, and I'm also pulling out my GPS to try to type in an address, all the while wondering if I should just quit my job. The first day. I end up calling (the number was in my phone's memory) and finding out the road I had was wrong, so I entered that into the GPS and make it to the job about 15 minutes late. Turns out that the line to sign in is so long, that no one could ever have guessed I was late.

So I got home, and wrote. I am at 10,410 words. Which means I wrote 1060, which is well short of my goal of 1600 to 1700 words a day. But I'm counting it as a success. Some days are like this.

As for the writing itself, I realized yesterday that I have not a single female character. So I guess I am Tolkien-ing it up. I'll fix this, I'm sure, but it's interesting writing your first novel, and finding the natural things you do which suck.

Oh. I have re-written large portions of the original 10000 words I had written, which means that events have gone in different directions, which means later chapters can't happen the way they've happened. So I look forward to tomorrow, when I will likely cut 3-4000 words from my manuscript.

Isn't the point of this month to GAIN a word count? haha

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What I'm reading...

I seem perpetually incapable of finishing what it is I'm reading. I have about 20 partially read books laying about my apartment, and what's more is that they are extremely good books. I have always had problem with distraction, but I think also that the more excited I am during something, the more I want to leave it. Whether this is because I don't want to be disappointed, because I want some sort of subconscious reflective period to let everything sink in, or something altogether strange and individual, I have no idea.

Does anyone else have a hard time finishing books?

It's especially strange given the fact that were I to enumerate the page counts of what I have partially read, I believe I'd probably be considered considerably well-read by most accounts.

But what I'm reading now. Absent Magazine, which has a series of poems by Matthew Klane which I have been taken by. Their sense of rhyme and rhythm is very interesting to me. I lately have been focusing very much on the rhythm of my poems. I've experimented with a number of different things, including occasional internal rhyme, and I have a feeling Klane's poems hold some answers for me.

Additionally, I have been reading both Native Son and The Invisible Man for lord knows how long. They are both potentially life changing reads for me. I can't know yet, since I haven't lived much life since having started them. haha.

And finally, Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue, which has the greatest chance, currently, of being completed. I love the English language, and this book makes me think about and love it so much more, that it seems actually to have the potential to inspire my poetry, despite being a book of non-fiction.

My new job starts in 2 days. We'll see how drastically that affects my writing, my blogging, and my ability to afford (hopefully non-junk)food for the pantry.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I am a walking stereotype

Today I interviewed at Borders for a position. A poet who works at a bookstore/coffee shop. I can't wait to hear back from them. Cough.

But money has never been more tight, I don't think. Which is a shame, because this will be my second job, if I get it (my first starts the 26th) and next month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), something I'd like very much to participate in. And I may still, but man that's going to be one hell of a month. I already have a little bit of a novel written, and some outline done, so maybe it won't be so bad. Yeah.

But even the prospect of writing a novel brings about a certain amount of unease which poetry doesn't bring me. For instance, what I have written is potentially humorous, and would probably be classified in fantasy, though not high fantasy. And I'm already wondering, were I to sell the book to a publisher, would I want to use a pen name. There's that kind of a prejudice for genre fiction. I know it's stupid, and stupider (ha!) to worry about what I'm going to do when I break big on the novel I plan on writing in 30 days. But poets are daydreamers, when they aren't around a pen, aren't they?

In other news, I went to a reading by Frank X. Walker yesterday, and had to stand in the hallway to listen in. There is something very heart-warming even in seeing someone else get that kind of reception for poetry. At one point, someone asked Frank what kind of prejudice had he received as an African-American poet (people love that question, don't they? I think everyone revels, a little, in our struggle. haha) and he answered something along the lines that he didn't get a lot of prejudice for being black, but sometimes quite a bit from fiction writers. Anyone who is a poet will know why I think that's hilarious.

Onward, into more writing, more reading, more studying, more working, more applying for jobs. Always more, and seemingly, always for less money.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Memorable poems

I feel simultaneously well-read, and lacking in that department, and it's because I spend so much of my time reading literary journals and so little time reading poetry books. I rarely get to read a full collection. But I have been reading "Don't Let me Be Lonely" by Claudia Rankine and so far (about halfway through) it's one of the best books of poetry I've ever read. I don't even know why I bought it. There was a time where I would buy books on a whim, and this book was born of that.

I'll maybe give it a book review when I'm done, but for now, I want to talk about a blog entry from one of my favorite online purveyors of poetry, Linebreak. In this blog, Carolyn Guinzio notes that "“Memorable” is a quality that may have nothing to do with greatness." And she's right. I have read classics that while impressive upon reading them, I have since wholly forgotten, and banal songs from commercials that will sleep with me in my grave. So what makes a poem memorable? Or better, what makes a poem both great, and memorable (since a sufficiently terrible poem might become memorable in itself)?

It's the sort of question I imagine does more harm to poetry than good, if it is sought after. It's the sort of thing which I imagine musicians are thinking about when they write their next bubblegum hit. But I recognize that this may be some sort of inherent bias I have: that greatness can't be manufactured, it must be organic. And perhaps that isn't true.

It is a frightening thing to imagine that one might go his entire life writing only one or the other type of poem, the great poem which doesn't stick with us, or the memorable so-so poem.

Or can a poem truly be great if it can be forgotten?

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Poetics of Class

One of my favorite blogs, for southern boys who consider poetry, recently posted a blog about class in America. Class has always been an interest of mine. I've always believed that while race has been one of America's most persistent problems, it has constantly been used to justify another of our problems: classism. I think that we often have a dangerous amount of things in common with members of our own class, and that racism promotes the fracturing of our numbers so that we rarely remain dangerous to anyone but our own.

This isn't to say that I believe that when racism shows its face that the person behind it is choosing to promote classism, but that ultimately, a racist is helping to ensure that the gap between classes remains firmly set.

But the aforementioned blog notes that while class is a central issue in our politics and our day to day lives, we have very little language to describe those gaps.

Says the blog:

Most Americans refer to themselves as “middle class” while statistics show that most us aren’t “middle class” by a long shot. The language of class seems to be hyperbolic at best. Sure, we can name what it means to be exorbitantly wealthy or extremely poor, but where are the words to describe the rest of us?

It goes on:

If I accept the idea that poetry emphasizes creative and innovative use of language; that poetry allows us to name what, previously, was beyond the grasp of words, how can I not think about class?

I found myself thinking about that divide, and how here in Northern Kentucky, as blissfully ignorant as I try to remain about social class, and as successful as I largely have been able to be, this sort of thing creeps into even my daily life.

The blog mentions, at one point: "Who among us will write poems for Gary, Indiana? Who among us will write poems for Detroit, Michigan? Who among us will write poems for Newark, New Jersey?" If that's not a call to action, I don't know what is. So following is my response in this conversation about class:

First Day of School, Bus 95

Where do I live? I'd pause a second,
then say Villa Hills, watching their eyes.
Because you can tell by them. If they bristle,
it's more than they'll ever say to my face.

And I'll want to say how in California,
we were robbed during school hours,
our piggybanks shattered, their hearts stolen:
10 dollars, maybe, in quarters.
Say that we only had a single floor,
how there was no sidewalk, no real yard,
that the side of the house was a graveyard
of dirt that would grow no grass, how the pungent
smell of weeds reminds me even now of childhood,
and how I'd watch our neighbor every morning,
walking barefoot back from the liquor store,
with a brown paper bag in her hand.

But my uncle left us this house
to give us a chance. So I say nothing.

Or upon hearing where I live,
the eyes will remain calm
as indoor swimming-pool water,
warm and familiar; they live there too.
We'll become cordial , but won't ask
where the other lives, won't ask why
we've never seen one another,
because unlike Ludlow or Covington--
where kids walk the broken sidewalks,
and play football in the streets,
and in the warm days of summer,
sit in lawn chairs at the stoops--
you can go days looking out the windows
in Villa Hills and see only an occasional
jogger, or a homeowner trimming
their trees or edging their lawns.

It is not yet 8 o’clock, the first day of school,
and I've already sworn to myself
that I will never mention where I'm from
without having been asked, and even then,
however it is that I really feel,
I will never say it with a smile.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Carolina Chocolate Drops at EKU

Went on a mini-road trip with my brother and my friend Ashley to see the Carolina Chocolate Drops at Eastern Kentucky University. I am somewhat adverse to sharing music, since it seems like I never agree with anyone as to what constitutes good music (okay, that's not entirely true, but here in Northern Kentucky, I just don't know many other people who listen to rap, period). But in any case, here it is:

The Carolina Chocolate Drops were featured in issue of Pluck!, so there's some Affrilachian connection there, but beyond that, they're just a really amazing band. Besides the sheer range of instruments each person can play, Rhiannon Giddens danced the Charleston at one point. I mean. Seriously. Danced the Charleston.

A part of me doesn't want to go into this, because I know as artists, they are probably like me; simultaneously proud of their black heritage, but unwilling to be the token example of diversity.

But I don't know, something about performing your art outside of where you are 'welcome,' and still winning over the audience has always really inspired me. TCCD performed Hit 'Em Up Style at the Grand Ole Opry and got a standing ovation. I'm not just talking about blacks performing in mainstream, though. Or in this case, blacks in an old-time string band, which you might not expect. No, I mean any culture pushing into any other, and being appreciated for what it has to offer.

And it's not the classic underdog situation. Not to me. It's more about how art, done well, can so often bridge gaps between us. Often, that bridge is as transient as the band playing, or the poem being read, and the people who willfully hate a culture or people will go on hating, despite that one good memory they have of something that transcended them.

But every so often, art proves to be what connects us, no matter the distance we engender between us, or any real physical separation that we can do little to overcome. It's much harder to hate, or to misunderstand, someone the more you find to love about them. Which is why it's so easy for someone to steal from a stranger, and is often so hard for them to do it from their own mother. Art can complete us, as a people.

And I think that's the truest testament to good art, and the noblest notion that it can achieve.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Voices from the Hills

This last Saturday I attended an event I had been looking forward to for a very very long time; Voices from the Hills, held at my alma mater, Northern Kentucky University. It was an event focused around the future of Appalachian and Kentucky writing, but more importantly to me, was put together in honor of Danny Miller, the former chair of the English department who passed away very recently, and to raise money for an endowment in his honor.

Danny was an amazing man, who very directly affected the direction of my life. It was through great effort, on his part, that Frank X. Walker was hired as writer-in-residence, which of course directly lead to my induction into the Affrilachian poets, which has had an immeasurable effect on my writing.

I had previously won the under-graduate (at the time of the contest) non-fiction contest for my essay “Folk Traditions as a Conduit for Healing in Gurney Norman’s Kinfolks,” and my family was there to cheer me on as I accepted my award. It marks the first, and possibly only time in my life that I'll be have such a personal investment in an essay. I was writing the essay in a one-on-one class with Danny, who passed away before the essay or the class was complete.

Among the writers at the event were Laura Sutton, Richard Hague, Chris Holbrook, Jeff Mann, Frank X Walker, Marianne Worthington, Gurney Norman (current poet laureate of Kentucky), Crystal Wilkinson, and Wendell Berry. I spent every cent of a check I won for my essay on books at the event, so I'm both inspired and poor.

Story of my life.

In other news, I think I may throw myself into sonnets. Not only because Gary Copeland Lilley, who was suggested to me as someone who I should study, does, but because I've for some time suspected I should study form, specifically something that would force me to think about iambs. I have a side-project tentatively planned about rap and iambic structure, but I have never been very good at it, and I'm not sure I know a single other person in the world who would be interested in both formal poetry structure, and rap.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

An orgy of sound, but not poets.

You really should read this Poetry and Popular Culture entry if you're at all interested in the very weirdest side of language. And if you're in a place where you can listen to NSFW (not safe for work) material.

Essentially, the blog links to The 60 Second Anthology of American Poetry, a compilation of the sounds between the words of recorded poetry. The ums, the ahs, the hms, but more intriguingly, the hisses and slurps.

Poetry and Popular culture says the following:

In other words, there are no words in this poetry collection, and this absence provokes some provocative questions: Can poetry exist without its words? If so, what then is poetry?

Now, I'm normally not one to stomp on an idea, because the moment you do that, some upstart shows you what's what. It happens every few generations, within any art form (Rock? It'll never last, it has no staying power. Rap? It can't even be considered music. The Beats? They're not saying anything.)

But come on. Can poetry exist outside of words? No. And I would love to be proven wrong on this. Not because I'm cocky, but because I feel like it'd be something like finding out that there's some 8th color of the rainbow I only need to know about to see. And I'm all about seeing more colors.

What's interesting about the recording is not what it says about poetry at all. Because let's face it, that could be a recording of politicians speaking at Congressional Hearings. It may very well be, as you'll find that Language Removal Services is standing by the very fishy decision not to release the names of any of the poets, citing the personal nature of the poets to the creator of the mp3. And anything rhythmic about this collection would be attributed to the editing process, something like scratching a record.

No, what I find interesting about the Anthology is the erotic-sounding nature of language itself, and I say language and not English, because again, this could be any language. It's a reminder that however passionately we aspire to raise language to the highest planes of thought, however much we, as poets or appreciators of poetry, like to think that words have power, that really what we deal with very often are calculated collections of sounds, some of the same sounds that connect us to our primitive origins. As a people, as a culture, and as a language.

Says P&P:

"Removing language becomes an opportunity to reclaim the physical, erotic pleasure surrounding it. “There is that kinky side to LRS,” says Kubick, “so in a sense, you could hear ‘The 60 Second Anthology’ as an orgy of poets. And I hope, also, that there’s something natural in it, something like the ocean, when you get swallowed by a wave. Swallowed by a sea of saliva.”

When we critically examine a text, we might note that the author uses alliteration, and it achieves this effect. Or that the sound of this word brings to mind some emotion or action. We might ask "Why?" a thousand times in trying to understand how our favorite poet achieves the emotional impact they've garnered in us, but it's important to ask, in a sense, a why of the why. To pull ourselves back to the very beginnings of poetry and language, and to look at what the sounds themselves evoke in us.

Because there's power in that. It is the truest sense of evocation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Read Write Poem Virtual Book Tour: "At Night, The Dead" by Lisa Ciccarello

“At night, the dead,” is a chapbook which concerns itself with the dead, which is literally everywhere, "in our throats when we sing" as well as within the pages of the book itself. But don't mistake what may initially sound like George A. Romero's book of poetry for anything like the gory, shambling dead we have come to expect from our dark media. And thank goodness for that. I have never understood the obsession with zombies and zombie killing. Spilled viscera isn’t scary. It’s disgusting.

Instead, the dead in Lisa Ciccarello's chapbook are more akin to those remembered in the practices of Mexico's Day of the Dead, or in the stories I have heard from Puerto Rican culture. They are everywhere, a part of our every day lives.

"the dead are sitting up in their narrow huts. At night they moan & try to uncross their legs. In the day they pretend they chose this position."

At night, the dead is not so much a story as it is a long running chant or benediction with many repetitions of imagery in its terse lines. Different forms of water, diamonds, salt, things burned, and especially the dead repeat themselves throughout the book.

Fourteen of the sixteen poems share the same title: "At night, the dead:" which serves the dual purpose of giving the poems a connectedness that hints at a single running poem, but separates them from one another, an essential thing for a series with no underlying literal narrative.

These are poems with pressing images, and short lines that give a sense of urgency to getting to the next line. As I've said, it reads to me very much like a sort of protection spell. Ever see the Charmed sisters frantically read a spell as something malevolent comes their way? It's something like that. Except not corny. Perhaps an entirely different example is in order…

In any case, the images themselves, and the mood that such short poems portray—blanketed as they are on the page with whiteness—are what this book seems to be all about. Not with understanding the who/what/when/where/why, but with sharing in a feeling:

"A moon is a plug. Someone stoppers the dark & I was waiting for it.

The moon is a coin on the dead eye of the dead. The dead are dead. Rearrange the letters."

There are many references to primal symbols and words that surely affect us all in similar ways. The word dead immediately sets a mood, and its repetition disallows our escaping that mood. The moon too, and even coins, associated with Chiron on the river Styx, all drive home an idea not of an abject terror, but of a dull one, a constant struggle between acceptance and fear of the dead.

It is not the complete peace of Native-American spirituality. One where ancestors, are welcomed to guide and protect us. Instead, it is a kind encroaching and pervasive dead. A perversion of that innate human feeling that the dead are with us coupled with a modern fear of death, and refusal of acceptance.

I would at first be inclined to say that I don't share these feelings about the dead, but then I realize that perhaps how I deal with the dead is to push them fully out of my mind, to 'move on,' as we might put it, and never spend any time to think of those who have passed, if it can be avoided. Enjoy the memory of them, but never think about them being dead. And this is precisely what the struggle this book seems about.

There are some things that I don’t understand, even coming to terms with the fact that this work is not necessarily a literal narrative. Sometimes Ciccarello writes out the word ‘your,’ and other times abbreviates it as ‘yr.’ There doesn’t seem to be any consistency in that, though, and sometimes both appear in the same poem. The word ‘and,’ on the other hand, is always abbreviated as an ampersand (&), and so it seems as if there is some sort of purposeful choice between ‘your’ and ‘yr.’ One which I was never able to discern. There are also inconsistencies with the capitalization of sentences.

And since the form of this chapbook seems to be used at times to its fullest effect (the decision to run on sentences instead of breaking lines, or to print a single line on an otherwise blank page) it made me wonder if the fact that only the first half of my book’s pages had frayed edges was a conscious decision, a technical necessity, or a mistake. And if it was a conscious decision, if it had anything at all to do with the poetry itself.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys in their poetry mood and imagery above all else, or who likes their dark forays into art properly dark, instead of what passes for dark these days: the gruesome, the startling, and the demented.

Oh. This is one stop of many on the Read Write Poem Virtual Book Tour. Check out some of the others, if you get a chance.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Gyspy Poetry Slam

Just got home from Gypsy Poetry Slam in Victorian Square (Lexington, KY), which is an event within the Kentucky Women's Writer's Conference, now in its 30th year. It was organized and emceed by fellow Appalachian Poet and good friend of mine, Bianca Spriggs (And now I will see if mentioning her name will draw her to my blog via Google Alerts. Haha).

It was awesome. Really, any female poet living in or around Kentucky has absolutely no excuse not to attend at least one of these events. I mean, I was able to make it, and I'm a guy. One of like 10 guys in the giant crowd, actually. And I'd tell you just how many people were there, but I am an astoundingly miserable estimator. Somewhere between 100 and a million people were there. Give or take.

I was there to support Lisa Cabaret, a friend I invited to compete, and she did great. She didn't win, but she beat me (and won!) at the Covington City Lights poetry slam a while back, so she's got that under her belt. Now she just needs a website. Or a blog.

One of my favorite things about this event, besides the talent itself, was the range of topics. From time to time I go to a local poetry event in Cincinnati which sometimes ends up being made up predominantly of women in their mid-twenties, and it becomes a man-bash. I can deal with that. But tonight, it was nice to see poetry that seemed simultaneously to embrace and 'transcend' its gender. Women writers have enough obstacles to deal with than to feel forced to write about their sexuality or motherhood, even if they ultimately choose to write about those things.

Afterwards, I ate dinner (hamburger, fries, and fried banana peppers!!) with some of the poets, including the feature performer, and Def Poet Rachel McKibbens, who was absolutely hilarious. I think she won the "things I did when I was poor" contest. Not with the "ate ramen noodles out of an upside down Frisbee," but I think I will forever consider Frisbees as bowls from now on.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Big book seller poetry selections suck. The oldest tale in a poet's book.

My Aunt Shawn read me much of my first poetry. And she didn't pull any punches. It wasn't Shel Silverstein, (which is good stuff, don't get me wrong). It was the poetry that she was still interested in as an adult.

She read, and still reads, better than almost anyone I know, and that is extremely important when introducing poetry to a skeptical or impatient audience. I can't say that the first time I heard Gunga Din that I understood with certainty what the story was about, but I felt the rhythm, and I was entranced by the exotic-sounding turns of phrases. And I'd go back to read it again.

So when my Aunt Shawn told me she had sent my poetry to a friend, and that she trusted this friend who had in return sent a list of poets I should read, I immediately wrote the names down, and drove to the bookstore.

Claudia Rankine, A. Van Jordan, Gary Lilley, and Sherwin Bitsui. And I have read A. Van Jordan, loaned to me by Frank X. Walker, but maybe not with discerning enough eye.

The closest bookstore to where I live is a Barnes and Noble. It's a decent sized bookstore, not the smallest one around these parts, but not one of the bigger ones either; it's just one floor. I spent some time scouring the two book shelves confusedly before realizing that the store had apparently given Poetry slightly more significance than essays, and had allowed them to run well into the Essay shelf as well.

But it didn't matter. They didn't have any of my four poets, not a single book by any of them. I wasn't surprised by Sherwin Bitsui, who is a Native-American author, and one I suspected might be easier to find in Arizona, where my Aunt Shawn is from, than here in Northern Kentucky. But I hadn't given up. On to the newer, bigger, bookstore: Borders.

Borders was a huge disappointment. A single row of shelves for poetry, and when you fill up the space with the inevitable poetry reads such as The Aenid, Edgar Allan Poe, and Langston Hughes, that leaves very little room for anything else. But here, the rest of the space was filled with anthologies of poetry.

Where would we be, those small tribes of us wandering around in the dark reading our poetry, without the advent of the internet? There is only one more bookstore that is within a reasonable distance to where I live. I really don't think that A. Van Jordan is so obscure as to be so difficult to find.

I understand that I can order these books at any of the bookstores I visited, but that's also asking quite a bit of commitment from a patron, isn't it? I happen to be interested in buying these books, but with nothing new on the shelf that isn't by a US Poet Laureate, how am I to decide if I want to drop 15-25 dollars on a book that isn't even 100 pages long?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Making your own poetry chapbooks: Everything you need to know

I'll try to keep the personal anecdotes to a minimum on this one and mention them only as they pertain to Chapbook making, with the hope that this post helps anyone out there who has never made a Chapbook. With easy to follow headings!

Why Should I Make a Chapbook?

If you're a poet, and you don't have a published book to sell, you need a chapbook. And if you already have a published book, it's not a bad idea to have one either. A chapbook is a poet's business card. But why not just actually print a business card? Because your 'business' is a strange one. After a reading, it is unlikely that the woman in the back who was so inspired by your words actually wants your business. What is she going to do, have you read at her kid's birthday party?

Of course, it might do well to have business cards as well, because maybe that woman is an English professor, or an agent. But the great majority of people in an audience aren't interested in hiring you, they're interested in your work, so it's a good idea to have a small book of some of your poems (preferably some of the ones you read) to take home with them. Maybe only as a souvenir, but maybe as something they really will go back and read sometimes.

And if you're already published, a chapbook is a good way of sharing some of your new work, as well as something for those people in the audience who can't shell out 20 books for a book. Or don't want to. If my brother and I were in the audience of a poetry reading 6 years ago, I might buy a chapbook because I was a poor student who wished he could afford the book, and my brother might buy it because he has no real interest in reading 60+ poems, but was actually moved enough to want to walk away with something.

So What are my Options?

You basically have three options, after you've decided that yes, you want a chapbook. There is the do-it-yourself option, the do-most-of-it-yourself option (hereafter called the Kinko’s option), and then there's the expensive option. More on that later.

I will, in each section, go over some of the same things over and over again. Not because I think you, the intrepid chapbook crafter is irretentive, but because I want those of you who are going to skip right to the option you want to not have to jump back and forth in this blog entry to figure out what I'm talking about.

1. The Do-It-Yourself Option

This is by far the most inexpensive way to go about making a chapbook, but don't let that stop you. This affords the greatest customization. Cheap is what it will cost you, it's not necessarily what it will look like. Although if you're not very crafty, it could end up looking that way too. But who knows. It may come across as endearing.

First, decide how many pages you want your book to be. Keep in mind that the number must be divisible by four. If you're not great with math, you're just going to have to trust me on this one, but basically, one 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, folded in half, is going to yield 4 pages. You could of course use smaller, or larger paper, but your printer is going to keep to handle that.

Things to keep in mind. You're doing this yourself. That means that you have to fold these things. It means that your stapler has to go through that many pages. And lastly, unless you have professional equipment, at a certain point, the pages in the middle are going to stick out noticeably further than the ones on the outside edge (near the covers). I would say 5 pages, including the cover, is a good amount for this option, but in any case, you're going to want to take some paper before you've even started and have a test run.

Speaking of test runs, if you want an especially nice touch, you'll want to use card stock as the cover, which comes in a variety of colors at your local Staples or other office supply store. But don't make the mistake I made, and never think to test your printer with card stock until the week before you need a chapbook. My laser printer is incapable of printing to cardstock; it just will not go through the machine. This may be true of all laser printers. I don't know.

Another thing you're going to probably want to get is what seems to be called a long stapler, a long reach stapler or a long arm stapler. It seems that this contraption goes by many names. This is going to be one of the more expensive investments for this option; it costs about $30 for a fairly nice one. You can get it at any office supply store, I'd imagine, but I got mine at Office Depot, I believe. Here you can see it, being lorded over by my cat, Alice. Dusty, because, as I said, my printer can not print card stock. If you don't have or don't want one of these staplers, you can just staple very close to the edge with the book closed (that is, not directly in the center of the spine, with the book open, the way a book is normally threaded or glued). But you'll be stapling through even more paper this way.

Now, for the smoothest ride, you're going to want to print a test run, still without poetry, to see where your poems are going to go. Basically, you're going to open your publishing program of choice. I used word. Make a number of pages with the only writing on the page the corresponding page number. You can see what I mean on the right.

Now is the most frustrating part of this process. Figuring out how to print double sided, in landscape. It's going to be different for every printer. Perhaps your printer is physically capable of printing on two sides. But more than likely, it is not, and you'll just have to remember which way to put paper back in the printer, and what side up, to print double sided. REMEMBER THIS. Write it down. You're going to think you can remember it. But you can't. Just trust me.

Note: In Word, I believe you can achieve this by going to File>Print, and under the section Zoom, choosing 2 pages per sheet. I think choosing A4 scaling will ensure the pages fit just right, but you may have to fiddle with that.

Now that you have a bunch of double sided paper with every number on it once, fold it down the middle, and staple it. This is what your book will look like, more or less. Any troubles you've had doing this are not going to get much easier.

The rest of this process is a breeze. Now that you know where the numbers fall, you can paste your poems into the appropriate page numbers and know where they will go. Keep in mind that a couple of the 'pages' will be the back cover or inside covers, if you don't want to print on those. Also keep in mind that anything you write will be half the size that you're used to. That is, if you type something in 10 font, it will be cut in half on the paper. I am not sure if that literally translates to 5 or not. You'll probably want, at the end of this, to print one final test copy to see if everything looks good.

Here's a photo of two hand-made chapbooks. The one on the left shows a chapbook that doesn't follow the conventional size of a chapbook; an example of some of the freedom allowed. And it's very nice, it's called The Bones of Saints Under Glass, by Jeff Fleming. The one on the right is a chapbook by Bianca Spriggs, Constella and the 7-Layer Skin. Bianca hand-drew all the art on her covers, and each one was a little different. It made buying her book special. And of course, the possibilities are endless. Paint your covers, cut things out of them, glue things to them. And the list goes on.

2. The Kinko’s Option

I have done this a few times, and I must say, the Kinko’s option yields nice results, but man is it hell to get just the way you want. It depends entirely on who you're speaking to whether or not they seem to have any idea what you're talking about. And the odds never seem to be in your favor. If you're doing this option, make sure you're doing it well enough in advance that they can reprint the books for you if they mess up. Yes, it can happen. The first time I went, despite what I thought was very clear instructions that I wanted regular computer paper folded in half, I received chapbooks that were CD sized. It wasn't unreadable, but it was awkward and not what I wanted, at all. Kinko’s is supposed to print you a test copy that you okay, but this doesn't guarantee anything, it just raises the chances that your book will turn out okay.

The hardest part of this is going to be figuring out how Kinko’s orders its pages. What I finally did this last time (I went to Kinko’s 4 times in one day trying to explain what I wanted) was number a word document, each page a single number from 1-20 (I wanted a 20 page book) and have them print that as if it were a booklet I was making. That way, I could put the poems exactly where I wanted them. Note: You'll probably want to insert blank pages on the inside and back cover. But also keep in mind that you're paying for this, and each page adds quite a bit of cost to the final product, so you may actually want to consolidate your pages so that the inside back cover has your contact info, for instance.

Kinko’s can read most file formats, but they ultimately use .PDF (Adobe Acrobat's format), so if you have something that saves to that, you might want to save to that format as well as word and any other format you think they might read. You can of course call and ask, but I always bring several copies of the same file, on more than one media if possible, just in case.

Also keep in mind that at Kinko’s, much of the time you're using is being paid for. I think Kinko’s will charge you if you ask them to reorder your pages ($20, I believe it was), and if you want to do it yourself on one of their computers, you'll be paying per-minute charges. And if your Kinko’s is like mine, you'll be paying for 5 minutes worth of time just waiting for your file to load. Also, remember that since this book is a regular sized sheet of paper folded in half, all the fonts will appear smaller than normal. Try to remember what size half a piece of paper is, ignore the font number, and make your font a size relative to the page itself.

At the end, you'll be asking for a booklet, double sided. Ask them to see the final product, and make sure to sit there and make sure everything looks the way you want it. Page order, alignment, everything. They can wait.

All my trashing aside, in the end, you have a lot of options with Kinko’s. You have a number of really nice cardstock covers to choose from. They trim the edges of your books which means even a really thick chapbook will have smooth edges (no middle pages sticking out in a V). And if you want to go all out, you could even choose to print in color, or on glossy paper, although that can get very expensive.

An example: At my Kinko’s, I had 25 chapbooks made. Each was a total of 1 sheet of cardstock, and 4 sheets of paper (that's 20 pages, counting the inside and back covers, 16 not counting them). I printed my books on the cheapest paper, in black and white, and had them staple them twice. I don't believe they trimmed my chapbooks, because they were so small. My final cost plus tax was $37.37. Which isn't bad, but each addition of a page or any other frill would compound that, as well as any more copies I would want to get. Also, $30 is what it would cost to buy a long arm stapler, so you can see why making these yourself can save you a ton of money, since you'll never need to buy another one of those again after buying it.

3. The Expensive Option

I have never taken this option. But there are also sites like or where you can have professionally bound and produced books. The production is very professional, although dependent upon your own skill at designing. In fact, in this respect, it can be dangerous to use these services, because nothing stands out more than a well printed, and yet very ugly or poorly designed, book.

There are a ton of options, including hardcover books, and extremely nice glossy pages. There really is no better option if you want to sell something that looks outstanding. But keep in mind how many times you've walked past a book you thought looked really nice. Your poetry coming in a nice package won't make anyone buy something they wouldn't have bought in the first place, and let's face it, it's a feat to get someone to buy poetry in the first place. Keep in mind, also, that this does not count as being published, or even as publishing a chapbook, to any of the places that you are going to want to say this to (competitions, etc).

These sites have their own walkthroughs, so I won't walk you through a walkthrough. But be prepared. A set of 25 books comparable to the ones I got done at Kinko’s for $37.37 (about the same size, about the same page count) would cost me over $150 at And unless you want to eat that cost, you're going to have to try to sell them for that much more as well.

Final Word

Wow. That's some writing. I decided to go through all this because of how much trouble I had in doing it myself, and how hard it was for me to find any info anywhere online. I hope it was informative. If you have any questions, feel free to ask, and if you can link to this article, that'd be great, because it doesn't help for the information to now be out there, but floating just outside of everyone's vision.

Edit/Update: Brian Campbell has let me know about an easy to use chapbook template for anyone who has a copy of Microsoft Publisher. The file is hosted at The League of Canadian Poets.